It’s taken me a while to be able to write anything about Rocco. On top of a profound sense of loss, something else rendered me inarticulate: some form of what I can only call trauma. Rocco’s last 24 hours were awful. I watched helplessly as seizure after seizure wracked his failing body. He fought so […]
Originally published on UAlberta News.
This summer a group of future and current Career and Technology Foundations teachers honed their skills in the workshop.
The course, taught by Don McPherson, gave students hands-on experience in developing projects they could take back to their classrooms. From making end tables to gumball machines, this was a new experience for some.
“I’ve never touched any construction or woodwork, so this is a lot of firsts for me, but I’m having lots of fun and making a lot of cool things” said Jamie Lambert-Brown, a foods teacher.
More than having fun, the students are also learning how to teach
“I’ve learned how to make meaningful learning opportunities,” said Ryan Siemens, a future mechanics teacher.
“In this course, we learned how to connect projects to occupations, as well as other curriculum, so the students are learning, interested and engaged.”
Check out the photo gallery below to see more of the students’ work.
Originally published on UAlberta News.
Understanding and conceptualizing evil when learning about horrific events like genocide and war is a topic new Secondary Education faculty member Cathryn van Kessel has wrestled with since she discovered the extent of her family’s role in the Dutch Resistance during World War II.
“My grandmother’s family had resistance fighters, including the man who became my grandfather, in the basement or their barn when occupying Nazi troops would stop at their house while on their rounds,” explained van Kessel.
“I can’t imagine what it is like to make that decision. No matter what you choose to do, you’re putting your family at risk.”
The perception that youth have of the dark chapters of human history is something that van Kessel started exploring academically when she was a high school teacher covering “really disheartening things” such as the Holocaust and the Holodomor. This experience forced her to re-evaluate how she taught these topics.
“I wanted to teach for social justice and about these horrible events in history so we don’t repeat them,” she said.
“I wanted to make them feel, and not just hear cold statistics, so I’d show them things like the original footage from Auschwitz, thinking I was doing a great job. Instead I was destroying any hope they had for the future.”
Rather than repeating the same teaching method for future students, van Kessel started looking into other ways to present the heavy material and learning more about students’ conceptualization of evil.
“I was concerned about how we teach genocide, but at the heart of it, I was more interested in the idea of evil and how that can either shut down or open up thinking.”
As a PhD student, van Kessel kept busy working on this research, even presenting it in the UAlberta Three Minute Thesis competition. As a faculty member she plans to continue researching into youth’s perception of evil in social studies curriculum by collaborating with colleagues who focus on terror management theory, wisdom traditions, world views and bringing it to an educational perspective.
Transitioning from graduate student to faculty member
One of the unique parts of van Kessel’s transition from graduate student to faculty member is that she made the switch at the same institution and in the same department. She considers herself lucky to have the opportunity to remain at UAlberta and continue working with those who supported her as a graduate student.
“I keep pinching myself to make sure it’s real,” she joked.
“I just want to make sure I’m making everyone proud. It’s such an honour to be counted as their colleague and they mean a lot to me already.”
One change in particular that van Kessel is excited for is the opportunity to pay it forward to the graduate students she will work with in the future.
“It’s fun for me to think of mentoring people through the process that is still so fresh in my mind,” van Kessel said.
“I think back to when I started my doctoral degree and all the skills I built. I hope I can give them all the great experiences I had when I was mentored by other people in the department.”
Mentoring future educators isn’t new to van Kessel, however. When she was a graduate student, she transitioned from teaching high school students into educating their future teachers. Something that always surprised van Kessel’s students is her use of diverse genres of music in the classroom.
“I’ll use metal and punk, but I’ll also use really sweet, gentle and melodic stuff like The Weepies. At the end of the semester I always get asked ‘What do you actually listen to? Is it Public Enemy? Is it Rage Against the Machine? Is it The Weepies?’”
Still, educating the next generation of social studies teachers is a task van Kessel does not take lightly.
“In some ways it is more high stakes since you have a bigger ripple which can either be a really nice thing, or a really horrifying thing depending on how it goes, but I love it,” she said.
“It’s exciting to hear how these future teachers are wrestling with the these tough topics, and telling them that it’s okay for them to be grappling with those things and how they might bring that into the classroom.”
Originally posted on UAlberta News.
Not everyone would take a box of worms through airport security for the benefit of students learning about composting in Canada’s North, but that’s exactly what Jerine Pegg did this past spring.
Pegg, a professor in the Faculty of Education, travelled more than 2,360 kilometres to Arnaqjuaq School in Hall Beach, Nunavut, to evaluate a Let’s Talk Science program focused on supporting science, technology, engineering and mathematics education in northern communities. When Pegg heard the students’ red wiggler worms had died, she packed more with her so they could start composting again.
“The school’s composting efforts will turn organic waste such as banana peels or paper into nutrient-rich soil for the gardening project,” explains Pegg.
“The worms will help speed up the process of decomposition in order to have good quality soil to use when school starts in the fall. This is important in a community where little vegetation grows and potting soil is very expensive to purchase.”
As a professor focusing on science education, Pegg believes the best way for students to learn is for teachers to bring realistic, hands-on science into their classrooms, even if it means taking local red wigglers onboard a plane with her.
“While I was at the school, on multiple occasions I walked past the classroom with the worm bin and students were hunched over it, watching the worms, spraying them with water, holding them, observing their movements and asking questions.”
Let’s Talk Science
Pegg originally became involved with Let’s Talk Science—an award-winning, national charitable organization—four years ago when she was looking for a context to continue her research on teacher-scientist partnerships. This trip was the first of a series of case studies she is conducting to examine the impact of these programs in various schools in Nunavut, Northwest Territories, northern British Columbia and northern Alberta.
Over the past two years, Let’s Talk Science has been visiting Arnaqjuaq School running in-class activities with students and workshops with teachers. As a part of one of these workshops, teachers at the school decided to start a school-wide gardening project by composting and growing a few plants. Next year the school plans to grow plants in every classroom and eventually build a greenhouse.
The power of scientific inquiry
Beyond inspiring scientific thought and curiosity, the program is having an impact in other subject areas. For example, the school’s business teacher hopes to use the project to engage students in calculating the cost of growing the produce in the greenhouse versus buying it from the Northern Store.
For Pegg, this shows precisely why it is important to encourage students to get their hands dirty with authentic science.
“Science education can develop critical thinking skills, such as asking questions, making observations, inferring, analyzing and drawing conclusions,” she says. “Understanding science is also important for many decisions that students will make in their current and future lives, such as decisions about their health and their environment.”
Originally posted in Illuminate – June 2016. A special thank you to the workshop facilitators and organizers: Nicole Schutz, Laurel Nikolai, Jeremy Albert, Holly Yuzicapi and Dr. Kathy Robinson. All photos by k.barnes.
A two-part professional development workshop focused on integrating First Nations, Métis and Inuit music and culture into elementary music education had a successful launch at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Education this June and is expected to return to campus in the fall 2016 term.
At the recent workshop, current Education graduate student Nicole Schutz and alumna Laurel Nikolai (MEd ‘09) showed more than 20 local music teachers and 10 current students in the elementary education program different ways to weave Indigenous music and culture into their kindergarten to Grade 6 classrooms by making flutes and teaching them how to play songs.
Learning by doing
The hands-on workshop encouraged participants to decorate and play their flutes, much like they would with their students. Schutz, who is Métis herself, said that making the workshop as interactive as possible was a deliberate choice.
“We move, sing and dance all the time with our students,” said Schutz. “Why not do it with the First music of Canada? We want them to feel it and know it through the way it is supposed to be done.”
Both Schutz and Nikolai’s personal experiences teaching music in schools with large First Nations, Métis and Inuit populations provided a frame of reference when designing the workshop. It also illustrated the need to educate teachers on how to integrate First Nations, Métis and Inuit content and perspectives into the curriculum.
“As music teachers and elementary teachers, we learn through doing it and experiencing the songs and dance. We really want to connect to this through stories and [enable students to] have their own stories of making the instruments that they are putting love and time into, then pass these stories on,” said Nikolai.
“It is our job as educators to do as much as we can, share as much as we can, find accessible resources and people who can pass teachings and experience onto us so we can be comfortably educated to share this with our students,” she adds.
Responding to the Calls to Action
Workshop participants point to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’sfinal report, released last year, as well as the provincial government’s promise to focus more on including Indigenous culture and history into Alberta’s curriculum as two reasons—among many—why professional development like this is needed.
“With the release of the 94 Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, this workshop is a response to some of those calls by learning more about Indigenous ways of knowing and being which will translate to their students,” explained event collaborator Jeremy Albert, who is a First Nations, Métis and Inuit consultant with Edmonton Public Schools (EPSB).
“We’re looking to build from here and get these teachings into our schools so our First Nations, Métis and Inuit and non-Indigenous students can be exposed to this education.”
The importance of good materials
As well as receiving a lesson in making, painting and playing Indigenous flutes, workshop participants also received a walk-through of an Edukit for music teachers, developed by EPSB. The kit consists of detailed lesson plans including songs, dances, picture books, poems, and stories that can be used throughout the school year.
“We’re crying out for materials and understanding to bring this music to our students,” said Kathy Robinson, associate professor of elementary education and workshop facilitator.
All of the workshop facilitators expressed a desire for the workshop’s positive impact to spread to classrooms across Edmonton. Event collaborator and EPSB First Nations, Métis and Inuit consultant Holly Yuzicapi explained that learning about First Nations, Métis and Inuit art and culture could teach students another way to express themselves.
“Every culture has forms of expression—art, music, singing, dance—it’s really people having the ability to share feelings and stories,” said Yuzicapi.
“You hear people say ‘I’m dancing for healing’, or there is history and significance behind certain songs or stories. When we turn to those things, we are acknowledging expression,” she explained. “When we deal with traumatic things in our life, we can turn to art to help us express feelings, but we don’t teach it that way. When you think about all of our cultural songs, the songwriter is sharing their feelings. So, technically everyone is a songwriter, a dancer and an artist.”
The EPSB Edukit will be available for loan at the H.T. Coutts Education Library. Part two of the workshop, to be led by Elder Francis Whiskeyjack, is expected to take place at UAlberta in the fall term and will focus on drumming and drum-making. To learn more about the course, contact Laurel Nikolai or Nicole Schutz.
Originally posted in Sustainability eNews Vol. 71 – April 2016. A special thank you to the Students’ Union Facilities and Operations Team and the folks at Energy Management and Sustainable Operations.
All photos, graphics and text by K.Barnes.
Once it leaves your hand and enters the container, you probably don’t give waste a second thought, but there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes to ensure the university’s waste is being recycled or composted correctly. At home, a lot of what is accidentally thrown away can still be sorted out at the City of Edmonton Waste Management Centre, but it doesn’t work like that at the university.
“If people put things in the wrong bin, we have to reach into the bin and put it in the right one.” – Gerry, Students’ Union Facilities and Operations
“If you don’t know where something is supposed to go, it’s okay to ask us where to put items.” – Emma, Students’ Union Facilities and Operations
The University of Alberta is part of the Institutional, Commercial and Industrial sector, which means it is not part of the municipal waste system you have at home. Instead, the university must have its own waste contractors who collect and process waste and recycling. Someone who lives in a residence in Edmonton pays taxes which go toward municipal services like waste management. The university’s contract requires waste materials to be separated correctly, or it all goes to the landfill. This also means that the material in the university’s “landfill” stream does not get sorted further after it leaves campus – it goes straight to a landfill.
“Landfills are designed to not allow things to break down easily, or liquids to leach out. They are a highly anaerobic environment. Even a piece of food waste, which can compost quite easily, will sit there for years in a landfill.”
– Shannon Leblanc, Sustainability Coordinator, Energy Management & Sustainable Operations
Keeping as many compostable or recyclable items out of the landfill as possible is an institutional sustainability priority. For example, decomposing organics in landfills produce a gas which is composed primarily of methane, a greenhouse gas contributing to climate change. By keeping compostable items out of the landfill, the university can reduce its ecological footprint. With this in mind, the University of Alberta’s draft Sustainability Plan has set a target to divert 90 per cent of waste from the landfill by 2020.
Getting to Zero Waste
To meet that target, the university is piloting Zero Waste stations in the Students’ Union Building, HUB Mall and Lister Centre. These stations move the university from a six-stream system to a simpler four-stream system which captures mixed paper, recyclables, organics and landfill waste. Once these stations are working, the system will be expanded to the rest of North Campus.
To evaluate the new system, UAlberta’s Energy Management and Sustainable Operations and Buildings and Grounds Services perform regular waste audits to get concrete data about how well the Zero Waste stations are working. That means the waste is collected, labelled and sorted to see how many of the items are correctly disposed of, and see what items cause trouble.
Next time you need to toss an item, check out the containers to see where it belongs and help the university keep recyclables and compostable items out of the landfill.